Figure skating expert Hannah Robbins discusses the results of the first two national championships and the surprising teams we will see at the next few competitions.
After the conclusion of the Grand Prix Series, skaters compete in the most important competition of their season — their country’s national championship. These competitions determine who will represent their home nation in major international competitions like the European Championships, The Four Continents Championships (skaters from every continent besides Europe compete here), World Championships and, this year, the World Team Trophy. Skaters can’t afford to have a bad night!
The first of the major national championships was the Japanese National Championships held in Osaka, Japan, and it brought surprises, returns to skating and unexpected national teams.
Yuzuru Hanyu was missing from the men’s field, but that doesn’t mean that the competition was lacking. Shoma Uno surged to a gold, winning by almost 50 points. The race for the rest of the podium was closer, with Daisuke Takahashi, the 2010 Olympic bronze medalist who returned from retirement this season, edging out Keiji Tanaka who claimed the bronze. Kazuki Tomono, the Rostelecom Cup bronze medalist, just missed out on the podium.
In the ladies competition, it was Kaori Sakamoto who was second in both the short and free programs that ended on top by five points. Rika Kihira, the first-year senior who won the Grand Prix Final, had a weak short program, ending in fifth after falling on her triple axel, but rose to first in the free program to finish second overall. Satoko Miyahara started with a strong first place finish in the short, but jumping trouble toward the end of her free program led to a fourth place finish and third place overall. Mai Mihara placed third in both the short and free to end in fourth place overall.
In the pairs competition, Miu Suzaki/Ryuichi Kihara started in first after the short program, and a withdrawal of Riku Mirua/Shoya Ichihash before the free led to Suzaki/Kihara ending in first by default.
In the ice dance competition, Misato Komatsubara/Timothy Koleto surpassed the rest of the field by 30 points, while Kiria Hirayama/Axel Lamasse surged to finish second after a struggle in the rhythm dance while Mio Iida/Kenta Ishibashi ended in third by a mere two points.
Team Japan for the rest of the 2018-2019 season ended almost predictably. For the Four Continents Competition, Japan sent Uno, Tanaka and Tomono for the men, Sakamoto, Kihira and Mihara for the ladies, Suzaki/Kihara for pairs and Komatsubara/Koleto for ice dance. For World Championships, Japan sent Hanyu, Uno and Tanaka for men, Sakamoto, Kihira and Miyahara for ladies, Suzaki/Kihara for pairs and Komatsubara/Koleto for ice dance.
It is common for Japan to send slightly lower-ranked skaters to the Four Continents Competition, leaving the stronger skaters who might have placed third or fourth, to rest and focus on the World Championships. Takahashi was offered a place on the team, but declined, citing a need to renew his mental focus and wanting to give younger skaters a chance.
The other championship going on at the same time, Russian Nationals, had interesting results. In most national championships, junior skaters that are of age to compete at a senior level for the national championship but are not competing as a senior in international competition will compete in their nation’s senior national championships. A good performance might lead to a stronger likelihood of earning a Junior Grand Prix spots or even Senior Grand Prix placing next year. Usually they don’t medal, but as we all know, everything’s a bit different in Russia.
In the men’s competition, Maxim Kovtun returned to the national stage with significantly more grace than last season by placing first in the short and free programs to win the title. Mikhail Kolyada trailed him; he suffered a fall in the free but managed to beat Alexander Samarin by three points. Andrei Lazukin finished fourth after a fifth place finish in the short and sixth place in the long. Dmitri Aliev surged back from an eighth place finish in the short with a fourth place finish in the free to end in fifth place.
In the ladies competition, the juniors stole the show, and the competition was so close that second through fifth place in the short program was separated by less than one point. Anna Shcherbakova placed first overall, with a strong performance in the short that landed her in fifth and placing first in the free, she edged out Alexandra Trusova, the Russian quad queen, by seven tenths of a point. Alena Kostornaia rounded out the top three with a solid third place in both the short and the free, and placed 14 points above the fourth place finisher.
Alina Zagitova seemed to hold her own in the short program, finishing in first by six points, but placed 12th in the free program after two falls leaving her in fifth place overall. Stanislava Konstantinova, Grand Prix Helsinki silver medalist behind Zagitova, managed to end the highest of any Russian senior skater after placing fourth in the short and popping jumps in the free, she placed fourth overall while Sofia Samodurova ended in sixth overall after placing sixth in both the short and free program. Evgenia Medvedeva placed seventh overall after placing 14th in the disastrous short but rebounding to fourth in the free program to end four points away from a spot on the national team.
In the pairs competition, Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov finished in first after a solid set of programs, while Natalia Zabiiako/Alexander Enbert trailed them by a mere six points to grab the silver. Aleksandra Boikova/Dmitrii Kozlovsky were 10 points behind with a solid set of programs to earn them the bronze medal.
In the ice dance competition, Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov reminded everyone why they ended second in the Grand Prix Final, winning both the short and free programs to grab the gold medal by four points. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin finished with the silver after a pair of solid programs while Sofia Evdokimova/Egor Bazin grabbed the bronze after improving from their fourth place short program result. Tiffani Zagorski/Jonathan Guerreiro ended in seventh after a strong third place short program and a seventh place free program that was full of lower level elements and negative Grade of Execution scores.
If the rest of the national championships continue to have results like these, this year’s World Championships will be very different from years past.